This isn’t particularly Christmasy, but hey, the weather’s more Halloweeny anyway…
One of the most frightening incidents of my childhood occurred on a trip to a nursing home. I was about 11 years old at the time. Our Sunday School maintained regular ties with the home, and on this occasion we were all being trotted over there to show the residents our Halloween costumes.
That year I had chosen to cut two holes in a sheet and be a ghost. This reason for this odd, defiantly unfashionable costume was that I had a deep affection for Peanuts, not to mention a compulsive anachrophilia. My peers informed me at great length that it sucked, but I took that as a badge of pride.
When we arrived at the home, we were separated into groups of four or five and escorted from room to room by nursing aides. I could barely see out my eyes holes, and nodded into the vague direction of the old folks. After a few minutes, we were hustled out to another room. I stumbled along at the end of the line, trying to catch up. Looking around for my group, I saw an tiny, hunched old woman sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the corridor, alone.
And she saw me. And screamed.
I froze. She was quite obviously screaming at me, because of me. A moment later, I found myself propelled down the corridor towards her by a nursing aide, who was simultaneously removing my sheet. “See, it’s not real!” the aide said, but the old woman was having none of it. “Don’t take me, don’t take me!” she yelled. Terrified, I could say nothing.
Looking back, I try to find a cause for my terror. Was it because I thought she might attack me? Nonsense, this was a feeble old woman. Was it because I was afraid I had done something wrong and might get in trouble? No, not this time.
It was because She thought I was Death. She thought I was literally the Grim Reaper. You could tell from her shouts and the way she tried to hide, huddling in her wheelchair. She thought I was there to carry off her beyond the Great Wall.
And I could see why. In a moment of vivid empathy, I could imagine myself an elderly woman, trapped in my dotage, alone and forgotten in a nursing home corridor and seeing this doom coming at me. A ghost, coming to make her a ghost, an idle metaphor suddenly horribly real.
For her I was Death.
It was scary, being Death.